Alexithymia and intolerance of uncertainty predict somatic symptoms in autistic and non-autistic adults.

Fionnuala Larkin, Brianna Ralston, Sophie Jayne Dinsdale, Sakura Kimura,Marianna Emma Hayiou-Thomas

Autism : the international journal of research and practice(2023)

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Autistic people have more physical health problems than non-autistic people. We were interested in whether autistic people experience more discomfort in their bodies than non-autistic people and whether certain psychological traits contribute to that. A survey was completed online by older adolescents and adults, 51 of whom were autistic, 32 of whom thought they might be autistic but were not diagnosed and 119 who were not autistic. They completed measures of somatic symptoms (daily experience of pain, discomfort, dizziness), alexithymia (difficulty identifying and expressing feelings), interoception (how much people are aware of their bodies) and intolerance of uncertainty (how people handle doubt or uncertainty), and reported any physical or mental health conditions. We found that the autistic participants had more physical and mental health conditions than the non-autistic participants, but even when we took account of this, they experienced higher levels of somatic symptoms. We looked at which psychological factors influenced levels of somatic symptoms across the whole sample, and found that alexithymia, intolerance of uncertainty, having physical health problems, being female and the number of mental health conditions predicted somatic symptoms, while interoception and autism diagnosis did not. The findings suggest that people may be more likely to experience physical discomfort if they are female, and have difficulty identifying and expressing feeling and difficulty tolerating doubt. As these psychological factors are more prominent in autism, we think this is important for physical and mental health providers to know about, so that these psychological factors can be considered when assessing and treating autistic people.
alexithymia,autism,interoception,intolerance of uncertainty,somatic symptoms
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